Mike Mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, has raised concern about the role played by the military in the US government, as Donald Trump steps up consideration of high-profile military personnel for top administration posts.
The president-elect has already chosen retired Lieut Gen Michael Flynn, as national security adviser, enthusiastically tweeted that he is considering retired Gen James Mattis, former head of US Central Command, for secretary of defence, and met Admiral Mike Rogers, currently head of the National Security Agency, over the role of Director of National Intelligence.
Asked if he was worried about the potential militarisation of the new administration, Mr Mullen said he worried more broadly about the “militarisation of the government”.
“There are very few senior military officers that understand politics,” he added. “I do worry about that aspect, can former senior military officers handle the politics of the environment that they are going into. I don't care what any of them say, they don’t know what they are getting into.”
Mr Mullen also expressed doubts about the temperament of Mr Flynn, who served as his top intelligence officer at the Pentagon. Speaking at the Aspen Institute, Mr Mullen said Mr Flynn had been “highly regarded” in the military, but that he was less impressed by the rhetoric Mr Flynn employed when campaigning for Mr Trump. Mr Flynn attracted controversy for leading chants of “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton at rallies and in a prominent speech at the Republican convention.
Asked whether Mr Flynn had the temperament for national security adviser, Mr Mullen responded: “I think based on the rhetoric, certainly the question is a valid question.
“When I knew him, he clearly had the temperament,” Mr Mullen said. “If it is the ‘lock her up’ temperament, that is not who I would want to advise me from a national security perspective.”
Mr Flynn, and potentially other nominees for top positions, are expected to wield more influence than predecessors because Mr Trump has no foreign policy experience. Mr Mullen said he hoped Mr Flynn would adopt a model that ensured the president heard competing views.
Mr Mullen almost entered the political theatre earlier this year when Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire founder of the eponymous financial information company, chose him as his running mate for a potential independent run. But the former New York mayor decided not to launch a campaign.
Mr Flynn was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 over concerns about his leadership style. Since stepping down and retiring from the army he has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration for not going after Isis more aggressively.
Other military figures have also had difficult relations with the outgoing administration.
The White House has been considering whether to fire Admiral Rogers as head of the National Security Agency — a recommendation made before the election by defence secretary Ashton Carter and director of national intelligence James Clapper, according to a senior US official.
The move reflected complaints within the Pentagon that US Cyber Command, which Admiral Rogers also runs, had been slow to conduct cyber operations against Isis, as well as concerns about new security breaches at the NSA.
Mr Mattis, whose time at Central Command ended ahead of schedule, also had tense relations with the Obama White House. In response to his possible nomination for the Pentagon, Mr Mullen suggested that appointing a retired officer as secretary of defence would provide its own challenges.
The move would require a congressional waiver to circumvent rules aimed at ensuring civilian control of the military and Mr Mullen said he would like to see someone with the “breadth and depth, the strategic reach, the global connections” to occupy the position.
“That is not to say that there is not a military officer around that couldn't handle that,” he added. “It is just I think that working in this town, what drives this town, if you don’t have that background or that capability, it is going to make that job much more difficult.”
Pressed on whether he would prefer not to have a former military officer as defence secretary, Mr Mullen said “I would just like to leave it where it is”.
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